In charge of Mogan’s Oyster House’s award-winning culinary creations, David Wells discusses life at the restaurant during a pandemic without its leader, Denny Mogan
Interview by Jonathan Westman
Photography by Grant L. Gursky
What’s your background in the restaurant industry?
My parents had a restaurant while I was growing up, so I began washing dishes at age 12 and eventually did some line-cook work in high school. I’d say my career really began in 2008, at Market Street Inn, as a line cook. At least that’s when I made up my mind that this was the path
I would follow. I worked my way up to sous chef in 2011 and was made executive chef a year later. In 2013, with the help of Denny, I was brought onboard as chef at Evolution Craft Brewing Public House. In the six years there, I was able to develop much more as a manager, creatively, and develop a better sense for the business side of being a chef
Describe Denny as a restaurateur. What traits does he possess that led you to want to work
for him at Mogan’s Oyster House?
Denny has always been a humble, selfless leader willing to do anything to benefit the team and business. He has a gift for putting a strong team together and allowing his managers to do their jobs to the best of their ability, giving guidance and direction without being a micromanager.
He’s kind, thoughtful and an amazing father, husband and family man. We both see the big picture as far as business is concerned, but we value our families first — that’s why when the opportunity arose, I was onboard with him to open Mogan’s Oyster House.
For readers who have yet to dine with you, how would you describe the restaurant’s atmosphere, menu and culture?
Mogan’s Oyster house is a casual, yet elegant, environment. It’s like nothing else in the area,
and you really don’t feel like you’re in Salisbury. The menu is simple — ingredient- and seasonally driven. It has traditional Eastern Shore favorites, like crab dip and crab cakes, with a few twists to keep things interesting and keep our diners guessing.
How has Mogan’s Oyster House fared during the pandemic?
We are extremely grateful for the community support during these times. We had a regular following when dining was takeout- and delivery-only. Since opening back up to 50% capacity, the business has continued to grow. We’re also trying new things and trying to grow the catering side of the business as another source of revenue.
You were recently named Best Chef in Wicomico County by the readers of our magazine.
How does that distinction make you feel?
I’m honored and grateful to be awarded Best Chef in Wicomico County. It’s reassuring to know the long hours and dedication to my craft haven’t gone unnoticed. I couldn’t do it without Denny’s support and the front-of-house team he assembled, nor without my wonderful staff: Jake Benzin, Brandon Dixon, Lindsay Benzin and Vince Seefried. Those four are the real winners.
When you received word of Denny’s diagnosis, where were you? Please also share some
of the emotions you felt that day.
I believe I was at work when I received word of the diagnosis. I was sad, as I knew the ultimate outcome, but grateful for the many memories I have with him. Some confusion for sure. As a father and husband myself, I can’t imagine what he’s going through. How do you explain this to your children? It’s also scary because there are all these unknowns.
Describe for me the roller coaster of feelings of working so hard to open Mogan’s and to be received so overwhelmingly well, only to face a once-in-a-century pandemic and the unfathomable reality of Denny’s illness.
I mean, it sucks. This guy has wanted to open and operate a restaurant his whole career, all for his family, because that’s what matters most to him. And now, he might not see the fruits of his labor.
It doesn’t seem fair for him or his family to have all this happen all at once. It’s an eye-opening experience and makes you count your blessings.
As months have passed, how have your emotions changed, and what fuels you the most?
I’m not really sure they have changed. I guess I’ve tried to ignore them in a way and just work through everything. I just want to do my job with pride and care. I do this for my wife and three boys. I also want to make sure Denny knows that we are keeping this business going and keeping his vision in our minds.
In the months and years to come, what do you think the legacy of Denny Mogan will be?
I think everyone knows Denny Mogan is truly one-of-a-kind. He would do anything for anybody — no questions asked. He’d give you the shirt off his back. Love your family, love life and love yourself.